The last time the girls basketball teams from Lawrence High and Free State met, a first-quarter Firebirds outburst put the Lions away for good. FSHS scored 32 points in the first eight minutes of the 2011-12 regular-season finale at LHS en route to a 79-45 shellacking.
When the rival programs square off for the first time this season — tipoff 5:30 tonight at LHS — a victory might not come so easily for Free State, which has won six straight in the series. Lawrence coach Nick Wood has seen constant improvement in his team since last winter, and the Lions will find out in the City Showdown just how far they have come.
“We feel like we’re making those positive strides, and we can feel ourselves getting better,” Wood said. “And now it needs to happen on a big stage, like we’ll have (tonight).”
LHS senior forward Bri Anderson said she and her teammates are more comfortable with each other and the game plans now, compared to last year, when they trailed FSHS by 20 at halftime.
“We were a young team, and that played a factor,” Anderson said. “Their ball movement was just really fast, and we weren’t used to playing against that and keeping up with their speed.”
After losing by 34 points, Lions junior forward Kionna Coleman said it was difficult to shake the Firebirds’ hands because she felt so dismayed about the outcome. She said the Lions (1-2) are better equipped to compete with the Firebirds (3-1) this time, though. Lawrence lost its opener by one point, then fell by four in overtime on the road before waxing Kansas City (Kan.) Harmon on Monday.
“We just want to go out there and play like we’ve played our first couple of games,” Coleman said, “but with even more intensity.”
Free State has won each of its last three games by 20-plus points, and though the Firebirds are the favorite in the showdown, coach Bryan Duncan said they learned in their season-opening loss at Topeka Seaman they can’t take any opponent for granted. That might be even more true regarding LHS.
“They’ve got the majority of their team back, and they’ve got a strong nucleus,” Duncan said of the Lions. “We know it’s gonna be a challenge, and they’re gonna really compete. There’s no doubt about it.”
Senior guard Kennedy Kirkpatrick said the Firebirds have recovered from their disappointing opener with better shot selection and a more balanced approach.
“We’ve just looked a lot better from the beginning of the game and maintained that,” she said.
Senior Chelsea Casady said Free State will have to work to beat LHS and not just expect it to happen automatically — an approach that failed the Firebirds at Seaman. Casady recalled FSHS set a team record for points in a game (79) the last time it faced Lawrence.
“We’d like to do the same thing,” she said, “but they’re a lot older and have some good players.”
Lawrence last beat Free State in the first round of sub-state in 2009.